AFL-CIO blocks accountability to members

Big labor and the liberal politicians who benefit from its largess are hopping mad about Department of Labor rules that would — gasp! — require that labor leaders be more accountable to those they represent.

New Department of Labor rules require that officers and employees of unions must file reports detailing any loans or other payments they receive from vendors doing business with the unions. The idea is simply to allow union members to know more about potential conflicts of interest involving their leaders.

Given the too-cozy relationships that have existed in the past among leaders of some big unions and those doing business with them, that sounds like a good idea. Union members are entitled to know when their leaders accept money from outside interests — sometimes in return for favors that don’t benefit the working men and women.

But some unions don’t like the idea. They’d rather keep their closed-door deals quiet. The AFL-CIO already has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block implementation of the new rules.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic Party candidate for president, was quick to side with the AFL-CIO — many union members of which, not just incidentally, aid her campaign. She claimed the rules are “without justification.”

Union members know better, of course. They are well aware of abuses of trust involving too many of their leaders in the past. And they deserve to have the new reporting rules, simply as a safeguard against such abuses in the future.


Soaring Eagle wins another Casino War skirmish

The union attempting to organize security guards at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort withdrew its petitions before the vote was to take place. The International Union Security Police & Fire Professionals of America is attempting to organize the casino's extensive security and surveillance staff. It had petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a representation election, but two days before the scheduled vote, the union called it off.

No one will say why the union withdrew its petition and canceled the vote, but it is widely seen as being a sign the union leaders felt they couldn't win an election now.

Late last year, the housekeeping staff at the Soaring Eagle soundly rejected membership in the Teamsters union. The vote in that election was about 2 to 1 against joining the union.

The Teamsters have been attempting to organize casino employees for more than a year, after a federal appeals court ruling said workers at Native-owned casinos owned by Tribes that pay per-capita payments could be organized.

The security union joined the organizing effort because security officials might have to deal with other employees. It would be a conflict of interest to have security and surveillance workers belong to the same union as other casino workers.

Before a union can request a representation election, it must collect signed cards from at least 30 percent of the members of a proposed bargaining unit. Most unions attempting to organize workers try to gather far more than before requesting an election.

After the organizing efforts began in earnest, Tribal and casino managers began a series of meetings with workers. There, the managers say, they have been listening to workers' grievances and promising to address them.

Tribal spokesman Joe Sowmick said the fact that the security union pulled its request for an election show that employees appear to appreciate the Tribe's approach.

"It shows our employees are in support of where we're at," Sowmick said.

Union organizers and Tribal leaders say the battle to unionize casino employees is far from over.

The Tribe has adopted a labor ordinance that all but outlaws unions in Tribal operations and businesses. It claims sovereign authority over labor relations.

However, the Tribe has not objected to allowing the federal National Labor Relations Board from conducting the initial Teamsters election, nor the now-canceled security workers' election. According to internal Tribal documents, the strategy appeared to be to allow the elections to take place, so not to give the unions ammunition to use in a possible court challenge.

Under federal labor law, the security union may petition for another election in six months.


Last stand at Wisconsin Labor Temple?

Facing the prospect of her ninth and 10th straight losses Tuesday, Hillary Clinton tried to flush out a few more votes in Wisconsin with a crowd-pleasing tale about shooting a duck. Yes, she bagged a duck, back when she was the First Lady of Arkansas.

"I've hunted. My father taught me how to shoot," she told a crowd at the Labor Temple in rural northern Wisconsin. "I remember standing in the cold water. It was so cold, you know, at first light. I was with a bunch of my friends, all men.

"And they all were playing a trick on me, and said, 'We're not going to shoot, you shoot,' 'cause you know what they wanted to do. They wanted to embarrass me.

"So the pressure was on. So I shot, and I shot a banded duck."

Her idea was to reassure gun owners that she's all for the Second Amendment, but it also could help shore up her support with working-class white men who have shown some signs of drifting to Barack Obama in recent primaries.

In fact, a CNN poll out yesterday found Clinton's sizable lead in Texas - where she's staking her election chances along with Ohio on March 4 - has all but vanished. Obama is favored in today's Wisconsin primary and Hawaii caucuses.

The duck tale was such a hit it inspired one man to ask, "As long as you know how to use a gun, would you be willing to show Vice President Cheney how to use his?"

Clinton and the crowd broke up, giving the senator a setup to poke fun at the veep, who accidentally shot his lawyer friend a couple of years ago in Texas.

"Once he's out of the office and the Secret Service is not around to protect people from him, we better be careful about where he goes hunting," she said to roars. "A little gun-safety protocol would be useful, don't you think?"


Unions have Clinton fatigue, too

Tuesday's Wisconsin primary is shaping up to be a critical test of whether Hillary Clinton can hold onto her base of support among low-wage and blue-collar workers despite the growing number of labor unions endorsing Barack Obama.

The Service Employees International Union -- which represents 150,000 health care workers, janitors, security guards and municipal employees in Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island -- announced Friday it will campaign for Obama. Primaries in those states have not yet taken place.

For Clinton, who has stressed that Obama's health care plan does not require universal coverage as hers does, it's a major setback because the service employees union has been one of the most vocal advocacy groups for universal coverage.

"It speaks to the constituency that Obama needs, which is low-income immigrant, Latino workers," said Jefferson Cowie, an associate professor of labor history at Cornell University.

Both candidates are honing their messages to appeal to blue-collar workers.

Obama -- who has done well among higher income voters, blacks and young adults -- delivered what his campaign described as a major economic address Wednesday at a General Motors Corp. factory in Janesville, Wis.

Clinton, whose voter base has been people over age 50, rural whites and voters with incomes under $50,000, spent most of last week campaigning in Texas and Ohio. Her first stop in Ohio was a factory in Youngstown. On Friday, she visited a Lockheed Martin plant in Akron. Earlier in the week, she visited a factory in Maryland that makes transmissions for hybrid vehicles.

Many labor unions are finding their members split on the candidates and have decided to wait until there is a clear winner in the quest for the nomination.

The biggest unions that remain neutral include the Teamsters, the UAW and the Communications Workers of America.

On Thursday, the United Food and Commercial Workers union representing supermarket and food processing employees endorsed Obama.

Clinton continues to have the longstanding backing of nearly a dozen national labor unions representing building trades and construction workers, machinists and public employees, but her string of presidential primary losses has made it imperative that she register blowout victories in the upcoming primaries to whittle down the lead Obama has in pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

While former Sen. John Edwards remained in the race, many labor unions were deeply split among the three candidates, with Clinton and Edwards capturing most of the endorsements that were made and many unions choosing to stay on the sidelines.


News Union authorizes newspaper strike

Hundreds of workers at Hawaii's largest newspaper voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to authorize a strike.

The labor dispute involves about 600 workers at the Honolulu Advertiser. Their contract expired last June but they have been working under an extension agreement. "They were outraged at what the company had on the table and they vowed to fight to get a fair contract," said Wayne Cahill, administrative officer for the Hawaii Newspaper Guild.

One of the main sticking points is workers would have to pay more of their medical premiums. The deal also includes a 1 percent wage increase effective Oct. 27, 2008 and a one-time bonus equal to 1.5 percent of an employee's annual pay, according to the unions.

"We're helping them build and change through a lot of things and this feels like a kick in the teeth to me that you want to essentially give me less money in my paycheck," said Mike Leidemann, an Advertiser reporter and president of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild.

The employees are represented by six different unions. Three-hundred-fifty-eight voted to authorize a strike. Seventeen voted against the idea.

The decision gives the negotiating committee the power to call for a walkout.

"We have to arrange picketing schedules. We have to check on members' welfare needs so we make sure we keep medical insurance," Cahill explained.

Advertiser president and publisher Lee Webber said in a statement: "Our belief is that we can come to an agreement. The proposal we submitted was reasonable given the current and future economic conditions facing the newspaper industry, our state and the nation."

The unions see the vote as leverage to help them reach an agreement.

"We wanna get them back to the bargaining table and get a fair contract for everybody," Leidemann said.


Diocese raps teachers-union organizers

Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino fired back at those trying to unionize Catholic school teachers, contending they are motivated by “self-interest” and seek “the acquisition of the greatest financial gains.” The salvo came in a letter printed as part of full-page newspaper ads Sunday.

The union wasted no time returning fire, quickly posting an “open letter” to Martino on its Web site and sending it to newspapers (it is on today’s editorial page). Signed by union president Michael Milz, the letter says “You suggest that our leaders seek only financial gain, but how would you know that without talking to us?”

The Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers (SDACT) has sought recognition as the bargaining agent for teachers ever since Martino announced a restructuring of Catholic schools in 2006 that wiped out existing union contracts and formed four regional school boards. The diocese rejected the request last month and set up an “Employee Relations Program” instead, prompting the union to launch an escalating battle for public support through rallies and letters, most recently calling for parents to withhold contributions to church collection baskets and give it to national Catholic charities instead.

Through it all, Martino remained silent until Sunday’s letter, which accused the union of making claims that “are misleading, inaccurate or simply false.” Martino wrote that he is “disappointed by the invective and disrespect that have been unleashed against me through public statements and quotes in the media” from union leaders.

Martino denies the union claim that he is ignoring a century of Catholic Church teachings regarding organized labor, saying: “I wish to allow no doubt that I uphold and teach the principles of Catholic doctrine on the right of people freely to choose and form unions for the purpose of collective bargaining.”

He cites a passage from the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World that says humans have a “basic right … of freely founding labor unions.”

But that right “is dependent on factors which must be considered by all concerned parties,” and Martino wrote that parents “make significant financial sacrifices to obtain a Catholic education” for their children.

“I have the most serious obligation to establish the requirements for Catholic education and to see that they are accomplished in our schools. If I fail to do so, the rights of parents are grievously violated,” Martino wrote. “Labor unions seek to obtain increased benefits for their members. They should also seek, however, to act in a way that does not hinder the apostolic endeavor that provides their livelihood.”

Before rejecting the union, Martino wrote, it’s history, contract negotiations “and public statements were reviewed. It became clear that … the primary goal of SDACT’s leaders has always been the acquisition of the greatest financial gains and other contractual concessions it could obtain.”

Martino also wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court “has exempted the Church from the requirements of the National Labor Relations Act and its provisions concerning unions in Catholic schools,” that there are many dioceses without teacher unions, and that Church Canon Law does not require recognition of unions in schools. “A union, then, is not required, essential or mandated.”

The union written response notes that the Supreme Court decision, known as National Labor Relations Board vs. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, didn’t “exempt” the Church, but ruled that Congress did not intend to include the Church under the Act when it was written. “By comparison, the laws of New Jersey and New York require the church to bargain with their teachers.”

The union letter also says “we offered to save the schools upward of $600,000 in accumulated sick pay and severance that came due when the schools were closed to form the new systems,” and that in negotiating contracts during the last 30 years, contract settlements “were never one-sided negotiations, they were agreements for mutual gain.”

Martino’s letter, the union claims, shows the bishop’s “interests are our interests: quality Catholic education for our children, increasing the number of children in our schools, and providing that service at a price our parents can afford. We are parents too.”

In a phone interview, Milz called Martino’s letter “very enlightening,” and said it shows the bishop is “getting bad advice … It’s obvious they paid to have a union avoidance firm to come into the picture. Google ‘union avoidance,’ look up any firm that deals with it, and you can see he was coached to hit every point they say to hit: It’s the greedy union’s fault, it’s only about sustaining their own power, it’s only about money.”

Milz has conceded that, by definition, the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers can ultimately only exist if it is recognized as the bargaining unit for diocese teachers – it has never represented teachers, or had members, outside the diocese. But he repeatedly insists this is about social justice and fairness for all teachers, not about his organization’s survival.

The struggle is shaping up as the proverbial immovable object and irresistible force. Martino wrote that “While unions are appropriate in some situations, they are not the only means to achieve justice for workers. Therefore, the decision to implement the Employee Relations Program will not be revoked.”

“That is unacceptable,” Milz said, “And will forever be unacceptable. If it comes down to it, we’ll do whatever we have to do.” The union has increasingly talked of calling for some type of work stoppage.

“Our options are getting narrower as the days go by,” Milz said, “but it’s not us who are unwilling to talk.”


Union political front-group pays volunteers

Republican chairs of Jefferson, Oswego and St. Lawrence Counties today joined in denouncing Darrel Aubertines's latest campaign dirty trick of using cash from his New York City backers to pay hundreds of "volunteers" from downstate and outside the 48th Senate District.

Aubertine's campaign backers announced they would pay up to $100 to more than 100 campaign "volunteers" from downstate in an obvious effort to bolster his apparent support locally. Such a scheme is unheard of in local North Country politics and directly contradicts Aubertine's public pledge "never" use paid campaign workers.

"Darrel Aubertine's entire campaign has been built on the dubious claim that he is the candidate with more local support, but the revelation that his campaign has to hire 'volunteers' and pay them for their efforts puts the lie to that claim," said Jefferson County GOP chairwoman Sandy Corey.

"The use of paid 'volunteers' is highly unusual in any local political race and virtually unheard of in a North Country campaign, and is a slap in the face to the hundreds of hardworking and dedicated volunteers in both campaigns who have sacrificed time away from their families to participate in this and every local political campaign."

In a recent Newswatch50 interview, Aubertine stated emphatically, "I would never do that," when asked if his campaign would use paid workers.

"This latest flip-flop concerning the use of paid campaign 'volunteers' is convincing proof that Darrel can't be trusted to tell us the whole story or even the true story about his campaign, his position on the issues or how he would serve us as a State Senator," said St. Lawrence County Republican Chairwoman Janet Kelly.

The ads were placed in local papers and online by the Working Families Party, the radical, left-wing, Brooklyn-based political group that favors legalizing drugs, giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, higher income taxes and even allowing counties to charge an income tax, among other wrong-headed policies.

The ads, which were taken off-line following a reporter's query, seek "politically progressive people" to work in an unspecified campaign in "Syracuse, Oswego, Watertown." No experience is needed and the pay ranges up to $100 a day.

Calls to the number in the ad confirm that they were placed on behalf of the Aubertine campaign. An official said that the paid workers need not live in the 48th Senate District, or even be registered to vote in New York State.


County bars arrest of AFSCME protesters

Officials from the University of California said they will appeal a motion filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Thursday to forbid the university from stopping union members from leafletting in certain areas at UC medical centers.

The Alameda County Court granted AFSCME a temporary restraining order after UC San Francisco security allegedly threatened to arrest union members who were passing out union materials to passersby at the medical center on Feb. 5.

An AFSCME spokeswoman, who declined to be identified because the case is still pending, said this was a surprise to union members, who had been peacefully leafletting at both the UCLA and UCSF medical centers since Jan. 15.

She declined to discuss the subject of the leaflets because she said the case is not about the actual content, but it is an issue of free speech.

The university cited patient and family access and safety as reasons for barring AFSCME from certain areas of the medical centers, according to a press release.

Nicole Savickas, a coordinator for human resources and labor relations at the University of California Office of the President, said having union members standing at the entrances and exits could be a “hassle” for patients and their families.

Savickas said that in some instances, union members had stood in corridors.

“We’re trying to ensure the safety of the patients, as well as the level of patient care. Our concern is simply to make patients and their families comfortable. When patients and their families are at the medical center, it’s not always a comfortable place,” she said.

Savickas added that the UC is not trying to ask AFSCME to leave the medical premises, but merely to stay in certain allocated sections.

“We’re willing to work with the unions. We’re mainly interested in keeping them out of high-traffic areas,” Savickas said.

But Lakesha Harrison, president of AFSCME local 3299, said moving the unions to low-traffic areas would make it extremely difficult to reach members of the public.

“This case is about our fundamental right to speech and ability to distribute literature to the public, period. (The) UC is preventing us from doing that,” she said in an e-mail interview.

Union members had been trained not to block anyone’s path and to maintain distance from the entrances and exits at all times, the AFSCME spokeswoman said.

In addition, she also stated union members did not use bullhorns, picket, or hold rallies, and usually stayed about 30 feet away from the main entrances to the UCLA Medical Center.

“We have only received support and encouragement from patients, their families and our coworkers,” Harrison said in the e-mail.

But others such as Amina Diaz, lawyer for the Law Offices of Judith Wood & Jesse Moorman and the Human Rights Project, said while the issue may seem to be about access, it’s really a First Amendment issue.

Diaz said the dispute calls rights of free speech into question.

“It appears that the UC is attempting to impose a time, place and manner restriction on the union’s exercise of the First Amendment right to free speech. Even if the UC claims that it‘s an access issue, it’ll still fall under a First Amendment right,” she said.

Diaz added that if the court determined the UC was attempting to restrict the union based on subject matter or viewpoint, strict scrutiny would be applied.

“If strict scrutiny is applied, then the UC must show that the restriction of speech is necessary to achieve a compelling interest,” Diaz said.

But Diaz also said if the UC could prove the restriction was content-neutral, then intermediate scrutiny would be applied, meaning the UC must show the restriction of speech was substantially related to achieve an important interest.

But the officials from University of California object to “misleading” material in the union pamphlets, according to the UC press release.

“It will probably fall under strict scrutiny, and that is the UC’s burden,” Diaz said.


UFCW fights employee-owners' decert effort

A hearing continues over a petition to decertify the union that represents workers at four Woodman’s stores, and it’s likely to continue for some time, a federal official said. In late January, the National Labor Relations Board opened a hearing on the petition to decertify United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473 as the bargaining unit for the 900-plus employees at Woodman’s stores in Janesville, Beloit and Madison.

The hearing was continued until Feb. 12, and it could continue for a couple more weeks, according to Irving Gottschalk of the NLRB in Milwaukee. The union has subpoenaed the records of employees at the four stores, and Gottschalk said it will take time for the parties and NLRB hearing examiners to go over the records.

At the conclusion of the hearings, the NLRB will determine the validity of the petition, which was signed by at least 30 percent of the union employees. If ruled valid, the petition could lead to a vote to decertify Local 1473 as the bargaining unit for the employees, whose contract expires in March.

Woodman’s operates 11 stores with a 12th set to open this spring in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek. With the opening of that store, half of the 12 stores will be unionized.


Ethanol manufacturer in union-only deal

Eric Will II has recent federal legislation on his side as he continues construction of an ethanol plant at the Riverview Business Park in Volney, NY.

Will, principal of Northeast Biofuels LLC, says that President George W. Bush's recent signing of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 is boosting ethanol's prices after they fell sharply earlier this year. Will still aims to produce more than 100 million gallons of ethanol annually once the plant is up and running - now expected in late spring, he says.

"That's [ethanol price declines] old news," Will says. "It's been going up steadily. Especially with the passageof the new energy bill before the holidays."

The national wholesale ethanol price increased to about $2.31, the DTN Ethanol Center reported Jan. 3. In June 2006, ethanol prices peaked at about $5 a gallon in some U.S. markets before tumbling into the low $2 range. DTN is based in Omaha, Neb., and is a national business-news service.

"The new energy bill is basically doubling the mandate for corn-based ethanol," Will says.

The bill increases the supply of alternative-fuel sources by setting a mandatory Renewable Fuel Standard requiring production of a minimum of 9 million gallons of renewable fuel nationwide in 2008, 20.5 billion gallons by 2015, and at least 36 billion gallons in 2022. Thatincludes 15 billion gallons of ethanol, about double current production capacity.

As projected from the start of the project, Will says he still plans on the plant producing about 114 million gallons of ethanol annually.

Plant update

Northeast Biofuels (NEB) is constructing a 350,000-square-foot ethanol plant at the 420-acre Riverview Business Park campus located at 1850 County Route 57 in Volney - the former Miller Brewery. The entire campus has 1.3 million square feet of buildings. Will is co- owner of the park.

A strategic partnership with Canadian-based global biofuels company Permolex International L.P. resulted in the creation of NEB - the company that will run the plant.

Ethanol, an alternative fuel, is produced through the fermentation of corn. Will projects that the plant will consume 41 million bushels of corn annually. One bushel of corn produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol.

Will closed on the project's financing June 30, 2006, and says the project is now in its 19th month of engineering and construction. The total project cost is $165 million.

The financing agreement features three debt facilities including a $60 million, fully funded letter of credit that guarantees the plant's performance under the hedge agreement, says NEB. Labor unions in Oswego County have also loaned NEB $300 million for exchange of a project-labor agreement. NEB additionally receives $4 million from New York to assist with the installation of the plant's thermal oxidizing/heat-recovery system. The system provides the plant pollution control.

Workers are currently assembling the plant.

"There are 400 construction workers on site now," Will says. "We had to refurbish some of the existing buildings and remodify a lot of the equipment we are reusing."

He says a majority of theplant's equipment is now on site and that about 30,000 feet of piping needs to be assembled.

"We're kind of in a big assembly stage," Will says. "The biggest scope of work that needs to be completed now is all mechanical work and process piping."

Will confirmed that the project is taking longer than expected and now plans for the plant to run at 75 percent capacity by late spring 2008 rather than November 2007 as he told The Central New York BusinessJournal last April.

"Once you get to 75 percent, to get to 100 percent is usually a few weeks," Will says.

By the time the plant is 75 percent operating, Will also says about 100 people will work there from NEB, BOC Group, and Perdue Farms, a project partner.

BOC Group, a subsidiary of the The Linde Group, a global supplier of industrial gases, will purchase carbon dioxide produced by the ethanol plant. BOC Group is also building a $10 million to $15 million plant it the Riverview Business Park site to liquefy and sell the carbon dioxide.

In September 2007, 25 percent of the business park, which contains the ethanol plant, was subdivided leaving the remaining space a separate legal parcel.

"We're spending our time now trying to figure out what to do with the balance of the site," Will says. "A lot of it is underthat green label if you will."

The park has the potential to house an anaerobic digester and food and beverage processing plants.

He says he has recently started receiving calls from people interested in the park's remaining space.


Special-ed teachers scheduled to picket twice

Grundy County (IA) special education teachers and aides will conduct informational picketing in Coal City and Minooka this week. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, teachers, aides, parents and their children will be outside the Coal City Administrative office, located behind the Intermediate School on Illinois 113. At 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, informational picketing will be done outside Minooka Community High School.

According to the members of the Grundy County Education Association, “every day in the life of a special needs child is a day that involves working together and Tuesday, Feb. 19, will be no exception.”

Laura Cuchra, president of the Grundy County (IL) Education Association, said another session with the mediator is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 22. It will be the third session in the past month with mediator Gerald Hughes.

“Both sides presented counter offers at the Feb. 4 meeting,” she said.

However, none of the five main issues have been resolved, Cuchra said. Those are salary, retirement, insurance, sick days and tuition reimbursement.

There are 130 special education teachers and speech pathologists represented and they filed a notice of intent to strike on Jan. 24.

About 120 teacher's aides, represented by the Special Education Employees of Grundy County, are also negotiating a separate contract with the special education board.

They are scheduled to have their first session with the mediator on Feb. 21. They filed a notice of intent to strike on Jan. 31.


Labor-state gov't workers protest

A few hundred state workers spent their day off at the State Capitol rallying for collective bargaining. Members of the West Virginia Public Workers Union held signs and said they also want to stop privatization of state jobs and a fair living wage.

UE Local 170 state President Bruce Dotson says the state Department of Transportation is moving closer to privatization of highway jobs as it continues to have equipment auctions.

The DOH says it's just getting rid of surplus equipment, but Dotson says the union doesn't see it that way.

"It puts us at a point that we don't have the vital equipment that it takes to do the necessary jobs to maintain the highways," he said.

Dotson says the surplus equipment auctions are a step toward privatization.

"It will cost the taxpayers three times the amount to do the same job as the state has trained people in place to do right now," Dotson said.

Governor Joe Manchin began a "Meet and Consult" project last year to gather ideas of state workers along with their complaints and concerns. Dotson says it remains to be seen if that project will work, but he says collective bargaining would be much better.

"We feel the problems in the state between labor and government have to start at the bottom, they have to listen to our concerns," Dotson added, in the research he's done, very rarely does the "Meet and Consult" system work.

Dotson says UE Local 170 is looking at someone else to endorse in this year's race for governor.

"I think we're going to support Mel Kessler as candidate for governor," he said.

Kessler, the Raleigh County delegate, will challenge Governor Manchin in the Democratic Primary in May.


Leftist collectivism called into question

Scenario 1: A poor, starving guy finds a chicken, kills it and eats it. Later he starves. Scenario 2: A rich guy finds a chicken. He adds it to his flock, and seeing that his flock has grown too big for him to tend alone, hires the poor guy to help.

He pays the ex-poor guy with eggs, though he of course keeps the majority of the eggs for himself. But the ex-poor guy now has a job; isn't starving; is learning a trade; and if he lives frugally, has the opportunity to one day build his own flock.

Scenario 3: A government guy arrives on the scene and convinces the ex-poor guy that the rich guy has cheated him out of his fair share of the eggs. So by a vote of two to one, the flock nationalized.

The government guy implements "fairness" by giving the ex-poor guy one more egg than before, and giving the ex-rich guy the same as the ex-poor guy. He keeps the rest of the eggs to be used for the "greater good."

Since the ex-rich guy and the ex-poor guy both now get their eggs from the government, neither has any incentive to tend the flock. And the government guy cares only for redistribution, not production. So the flock eventually scatters and sadly, all three starve. Sadder still is that one can be sure the government guy was the last to starve.

Said another way, the Left - the government guys - see an affluent, well-armed, independent population as an obstacle on their path to dictatorship. So if you've ever wondered why the Left wants high taxes, gun control and to tell the rest of us how to live, now you know.

Once it was Right vs. Left. Now it is Right vs. Wrong.

- Mike Lynch, Bloomington, IL


Massachusetts unionist raps big-money Dems

James M. Cronin's needless attack on professor Peter Friedman should not go unanswered — in the name of "fair and balanced." The disdain Mr. Cronin seems to feel for all things Republican appears not to extend to rich, spoiled and elitist Democrats like Teresa Kerry, who is conveniently wed to Sen. John Kerry.

I researched a past Opinion Page piece that highlights the fact that Ms. Kerry only paid 12.7 percent in taxes on $5 million of reported income for 2003. So I concluded that greed and "tax loopholes" extend across both political parties! Why the zest in attacking only Republicans? Partisan politics?

By the way, Mr. Cronin's piece also failed to alert us to Sen. Kennedy's tax-sheltered, vast money holdings in Costa Rica. With all the facts and money figures used to attack professor Friedman, the piece also failed to mention the left-wing Warren Buffet, who drained Berkshire Hathaway in New Bedford of all its cash assets for his corporate empire, leaving more than 1,200 men and women, and their children too, without a job when the factory eventually had to shut its doors. Did I mention George Soros? Both these men support "progressives."

Mr. Soros (who was born in another country) became a billionaire — like Buffet — and continually bashes the very system and government that created his wealth. I wonder what these two paid in taxes over the years? Both radical Democrats, so do we dare ask?

I am a union member now, and my second cousins were local Teamster presidents. One of the main reasons the Teamsters broke away from the AFL-CIO was that the latter appeared to spend the bulk of union dues money on so-called progressive Democratic candidates who ran for office. The teamsters and service workers wanted to spend more money on actively recruiting more members and spreading our message.

Mr. Cronin's message appeared to be one-sided to say the least. He has a right to defend his "nanny government" ideas and opinions, but to ridicule or appear jealous of Mr. Friedman's service record (as a retired naval officer) smacks of sour grapes! This one-party state needs jobs, not rhetoric!



Threat of McCarthyism coming from the left

Focusing on Barack Obama’s “inexperience” and “undisciplined messaging” are two ways to ensure that the senator from Illinois doesn’t get to be president, according to honchos at the Republican National Committee.

Big RNC contributors got an earful this weekend about methods the GOP will use to battle the Democrats for control of the White House this fall, as well as other initiatives central to the conservative cause.

The RNC’s “winter retreat” for major donors at Los Angeles’ Beverly Wilshire Hotel featured such party stalwarts as Karl Rove, RNC chairman Robert Duncan, former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, as well as some Hollywood types, including Dave Berg, a segment producer and “political director” for "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.

But chief among the RNC’s concerns were how to keep a tight grip on the White House this fall. Plenty of lowbrow Hillary Clinton jokes were tossed around at the three-day event, but of highest concern was the notion of Obama seizing the Oval Office in a contest against presumptive GOP nominee John McCain.

“We all dislike Hillary,” declared Southern California Rep. Ken Calvert, from the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, echoing thoughts of the roughly 75 attendees at a Sunday morning RNC session. “Forgetting who will be the easiest to beat, I've got to tell you, a President Hillary doesn’t scare me nearly as much as a President Obama.”

RNC Chairman Duncan as well as Co-Chairman Jo Ann Davidson opened the Sunday session with a Power Point presentation outlining five main strategic attacks against the Obama candidacy. The first called for pointing out what the GOP views as a seeming incongruity between Obama and the mantle of commander in chief. The second point harkened back to Obama’s days in the Illinois state Senate, noting how his “pattern of voting ‘present’ offers many openings to question his candidacy.” The third offered hope to the GOP faithful that “we can be confident in a campaign about issues.” A fourth bullet point relayed how “undisciplined messaging carries great risk,” while the fifth and final attack point stressed, “His greatest weakness is inexperience. He is not ready to be president. He is not ready to be commander in chief.”

The RNC event also broached taking control of traditionally Democratic issues such as health care, with even Rove stressing a need for Republicans to start addressing the matter. Congressman Calvert described health care as “one of the seminal issues” of the upcoming election and asked, “Are we going to move towards socialized medicine or away from it? Because we can’t move towards the middle.”

Calvert spoke during a morning session of California congressmen including Brian Bilbray, John Campbell and Dan Lungren, which focused mainly on immigration and lowering taxes, as well as more esoteric matters such as water rights. Throughout the event, the subject always seemed to return to this November.

“The American people are yearning for leadership,” said Lungren, who represents a Sacramento-area district. “We can win this election. We will win this election. Forget the carping about John McCain not being the perfect conservative. Ronald Reagan wasn’t a perfect conservative, but he was pretty doggone good. I’m not saying John McCain is Ronald Reagan: John McCain is John McCain. But we can win this election.”

For most of the weekend, however, the retreat gave the chance for donors who contributed $15,000 or more to bask in the 70-degree California sun, enjoy some golf or tennis at the L.A. Country Club, wolf down Wolfgang Puck pizzas at Spago, tour the Getty Center and Paramount Studios, and pay tribute at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library a half-hour away in SimiValley.

Berg, the "Tonight Show" segment producer, delivered an informal talk about the pride and pitfalls of being a conservative working in Hollywood. Peppering his speech with references to Michael Moore, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and other Tinseltown lefties, he argued against the liberal mindset that he believes dominates the industry.

“We [conservatives] believe capitalism isn’t a dirty word,” he said. “If you’ve seen Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of a greedy, sinister oilman in ‘There Will Be Blood,’ it’s just another example of the Hollywood left’s contempt for capitalism.

“People have called Hollywood conservatives ‘the new gays,’ but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case,” Berg contended. “The gays have been accepted in Hollywood for years. They’ve long been out of the closet. In fact, they’re fixing up the closet, decorating it, and it looks nice, actually.”

Berg centered his talk around the “unintended consequences” of the recent Writers Guild of America strike against networks and studios, which ended last week. Berg placed blame on the WGA’s “radical” negotiators, with writers earning six-figure salaries casting themselves as “poor, exploited, downtrodden” workers, “acting like it’s 1957” and they were UAW members trying to get back on the assembly line building Corvettes.

“When the writers went on strike Nov. 5, they entrusted their futures to a leadership that essentially believes Karl Marx is still relevant,” he said. “This was a revolution against The Man.”

Berg discussed the return of "The Tonight Show" without its writers in early January, when the only guests consenting to cross the WGA picket lines were NBC News anchors, goofy animal acts and Republican presidential candidates, including McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

“The WGA cut a side deal with David Letterman but not with our show,” he recalled. “We had to go back to work as the No. 4 network with no writers and no stars. Actors would not cross the line. I didn’t read this anywhere, but they were threatened with blackballing if they crossed the line to do our shows” - ironic, he says, since he believes Hollywood is “obsessed” with the 1950s blacklisting era of Joseph McCarthy. “The true threat of McCarthyism,” he says, “is coming from the left.”


SEIU concerned about privatization

The Board of Supervisors today will discuss paying private companies to oversee county health clinics and reducing primary care at the region's six comprehensive health health centers. Although Los Angeles County's Health Services Director Bruce Chernof describes the plan as a way to increase service while saving money, several supervisors are skeptical of the proposal.

Supervisors Don Knabe, Zev Yaroslavsky and Yvonne Burke have publicly opposed the plan, saying it would shutter much-needed health clinics, such as the La Puente Health Center. Chernof argues that's not the recommendation at all. "We are not proposing to close the health centers," he said. "We are proposing to privatize them and provide the same or more care visits."

The goal, he said, will be to form a public-private partnership, known as a PPP, with a provider who will continue running the clinics.

"Our goal is to keep services in or near where they are now, and wherever possible, get someone to manage them in the same building," Chernof said.

The recommendation is expected to be discussed but not voted on today. The health department would stop directly providing care for 232,000 visits by uninsured patients, and would instead pay PPPs to provide 266,000 visits, according to a report. However, insured DHS clinic patients might have to find new doctors.

Shifting clinic management and reducing service at comprehensive health centers would save $37.9 million, a staff report predicts.

The proposal would also keep specialty care but cut primary care services from the county's comprehensive health centers, including in El Monte, Chernof said.

"There are things the health department still needs to investigate," said Tony Bell, Supervisor Mike Antonovich's spokesman. "But our understanding is that it is feasible and would provide as good or better service."

Supervisor Don Knabe said in a statement that he was "shocked" and will ask for alternatives today.

"It is true that this plan will generate millions in savings, but ... further increasing the workload of our emergency rooms is creating a time-bomb," Knabe said.

In a radio interview, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky criticized the chance that clinics might change location.

"If you have to travel 10 or 15 miles to go have your diabetes checked, you might not have it checked," he said.

Worse, Yaroslavsky continued, was a privately floated proposal by the health department not to fund additional visits to PPP clinics if the DHS budget situation declined further.

But Jim Lott, the executive vice president of the Hospital Association of Southern California, called the public proposal a reasonable plan and accused county supervisors of bowing to labor unions.

"Dr. Chernof isn't proposing closing a single clinic, but he is proposing change that would eliminate union jobs," Lott said.

Elizabeth Brennan, spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union Local 721, said the main concern is that PPPs can't handle the same volume of patients currently treated by the county.

The proposed changes would successfully dent the anticipated deficit without reducing health care, Lott argued. However, while PPPs can provide service for less than the county, they can't do it for the "woefully inadequate" amounts the county usually offers to PPPs, he said.

"They will be able to find private providers - but that's if and only if the price is right," Lott said. "The county has always tried to get private providers to accept less than cost, and if they take that approach, they're going to lose."

DHS anticipates a $195 million deficit next year.


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